HL Deb 03 July 1883 vol 281 cc160-8

Order of the Day for the Second Heading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that it had been framed by the Irish Government with a view to dealing with a very serious evil in Ireland, and of relieving a very miserable class of persons—namely, those pauper lunatics, who were not at present confined in any asylum or workhouse, but were living as they best could with their friends, or were wandering at large about the country. The wretched condition of these persons had attracted the attention of the Irish Government, and they, being desirous of testing the information they had received on the subject, appointed a medical officer to make a test inquiry in two Poor Law Unions in Ireland—one in Dublin, and the other in the country. He (Lord Carlingford) had seen the Report of the Inspector, and the description he gave of the miserable persons whom he personally saw and examined was very painful. In the Report, he said he found lunatics in bed with no covering, some perfectly naked and lying on straw, and others filthy and perfectly neglected, and some bearing the appearance of suffering from want of food. There were many instances of mental Buffering, combined with physical neg- lect, the sufferers frequently being children—their condition being most deplorable. That was the state of things to which the Bill desired to apply a remedy. That was the main object of the Bill, and it was proposed to attain it in this way. First, the Bill provided for the regular inspection of all the lunatic poor in Ireland who were not in any asylum or workhouse; in all cases of neglect and ill-treatment, a power of committal to the workhouse of the Union in which the lunatics resided was given. In the second place, the Bill transferred the control and supervision of all lunatics to the Local Government Board, in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Lunacy appointed by the late Government. Under the Bill it would be the duty of the Guardians and the Relieving Officers of all Unions in Ireland to make themselves acquainted with all such cases as he had mentioned, and to bring them before the magistrates. It would then be the duty of the magistrates to call in the assistance of a medical officer to examine each case; and if, on that examination, and upon the certificate of the doctor, they thought it right, the Bill enabled them to send the lunatic to the workhouse of the Union in which he was found, there to remain until he was discharged cured. In this procedure the Bill followed the English Act of 1853, with the exception that, instead of being sent to the lunatic asylum of the county, the lunatics would be sent to the workhouse. The reason for this was, that there was no room in the Irish asylums for any more patients, the asylums already being overcrowded; and there was no prospect of the country being in a position to afford to make any addition to these very expensive institutions. It was further provided by the Bill that, in every Union, the Guardians should make, and keep, a list of all the lunatic poor within their Union; and all such lunatics should be periodically inspected by the medical officer, for the purpose of ascertaining whether they might be safely left where they were, at large, or whether it would be for their safety or comfort that they should be brought into the workhouse. In that particular the English Act was followed. In transferring the whole supervision and control of the lunatics in Ireland from the two Inspectors, as at present, to the Local Government Board, the Bill was in conformity with the recommendations of the Lunacy Inquiry Commission, which strongly advised that there should be one supervising authority in Ireland in lunacy cases. The obstacle in the way of this arrangement, they said, consisted in the present constitution of the Lunacy Department in Ireland, and they went on to recommend that the Local Government Board should have the responsibility. That was the proposal of the Bill. In asking their Lordships to read the Bill a second time, he did not recommend it as a complete measure upon the subject, or pretend that it carried out completely the recommendations of the Commission to which he had alluded; although, so far as it went, it was entirely on the lines of the Report of that Commission, and was, he believed, thoroughly approved of by the Commissioners themselves. Although not complete, it was brought in for the purpose of providing at once a remedy for a great evil, and a great deal of suffering which ought not to be allowed to exist longer; and he had no doubt that, if passed into law, it would, before long, lead to still greater improvements. The Bill might excite the fears of two classes. It might be feared, from the point of view of humanity, that the workhouse was not the best place for the treatment of lunatics. That he would not deny. But they ought to compare the condition of those poor neglected lunatics and idiots now with their condition as it would be in the workhouses. Though the workhouse was not, of course, as far as comfort or medical skill were concerned, equal to those expensive institutions, the county asylums, and though he fully admitted that the Lunacy Commission preferred a more perfect system of treatment for lunatics, by the erection of special auxiliary asylums in different parts of Ireland, he must say that they gave a most favourable opinion of the treatment of lunatics and idiots in a very large number of the Irish workhouses, and spoke of it as highly creditable to the liberality of the Guardians and the supervision of the Local Government Board. All things considered, it must be evident, he thought, that with proper management a workhouse might be made a sufficiently fit place for the care and treatment of harmless lunatics. He had no doubt it would be perfectly easy for the Local Government Board, when these new duties were imposed on them, and they felt the responsibility, to take care that proper care and humane treatment should be given to the lunatics and idiots committed to the Irish workhouses. The Bill might also excite fears from the ratepayers' or cesspayers' point of view. But in that respect it would make no difference, except that it would provide for the care in the workhouses of a certain increased number of neglected and often cruelly ill-treated persons. The additional cost would not be large; but, whatever it was, it was a charge which it was perfectly right that the rates should bear. The Bill would remove a large amount of human suffering, and would secure the treatment of lunacy in Ireland upon a better system than ever had prevailed before, while it would load before long to still greater improvements. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill.

"Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord President.)


said, he would at once admit that the Bill was an attempt to deal with what was and had been a cruel evil in Ireland; but he held that the method proposed was not the best way of dealing with it, and that it would perpetuate another evil, which, though less, was still a very bad one. There was, no doubt, a great number of lunatics and idiots at large in Ireland, some of whom overflowed into this country; and they were often treated by their relatives in a very cruel manner, and therefore some legislation was required. But this Bill seemed to him to deal with the subject in the most unsatisfactory way. The noble Lord (the Lord President of the Council) had pointed out how those lunatics and idiots would be collected in the workhouses, and he appeared to think that there would be no increase of expense. He also spoke of the cesspayers; but it was the ratepayers and the landlords, not the cesspayers, who would have to pay the rates. Up to the present time, the lunatic asylums were being paid for by the cesspayers, and in addition there was a capitation grant of 4s. per head paid to them by the Government for each inmate, but nothing to the workhouses. Yet this Bill provided for an enormous in- crease of lunatics in the workhouses which were supported by the rates. His opinion of the unsuitability of the workhouses for such a purpose was strongly confirmed from personal observation. Beyond that the Commissioners reported that there was, in many cases, very imperfect accommodation in the workhouses for lunatics and idiots, who caused the greatest inconvenience in those establishments, that there was no regular staff provided for them, and no provision for their cleanliness, or for exercise. And yet the Bill proposed largely to increase the number of such persons in the workhouses. The Report also pointed out that, in the lunatic asylums, there were a great many curable cases; and proposed that a certain number of the asylums should be set apart for these cases, while others should be devoted to the dangerous and incurable cases. But the Bill went exactly in the teeth of that Report, except as regarded supervision.


said, that he stated that the Commissioners were not in favour of committing these persons to the workhouses; but that they gave a very favourable account of the treatment of lunatics in a large number of the workhouses.


said, that the Report spoke of the great neglect of lunatics in workhouses. The real question was this—Were enormous numbers of lunatics to be placed in the workhouses, to the disadvantage, not only of the regular inmates, but of the lunatics themselves; and were the Government prepared to increase the burdens of the landlords by an addition to the poor rate? If so, he should be very much inclined to oppose the Bill; but he hoped to hear from his noble Friend the Lord President that there was a prospect of the adoption of some better system. The Bill was both costly and incomplete; costly, because the very first step to be taken, the fitting up of suitable wards, would require a good deal of money. Was it the intention of the Government to put their hands again in the pockets of the Irish landlords? He regarded it as a misfortune that this important subject should be dealt with in this piecemeal manner. Why did not the Government, as it was dealing with the matter at all, instead of doing so in this incomplete manner, follow the recommendations of the Royal Commission? At the present moment, they had only succeeded in introducing a Bill, which was bad for the lunatics, bad for the landlords, and bad for the occupiers.


said, he would admit that the present Bill was very imperfect and crude; but he did not think he ought to take upon himself the responsibility of preventing the passing of a measure introduced by the Government dealing with this question. Lunatics who possessed property were already well provided for; but that was by no means the case with the poor. Several attempts had been made to improve their condition; and in 1877 a comprehensive Bill was introduced, which applied to Ireland the whole of the English law on this subject; but the Government of the day were not prepared to accept the measure, and, instead of legislating, appointed a Royal Commission. That Commission inquired into the subject very fully, and reported very exhaustively; and the recommendations contained in its Report, if they had been adopted, would have had the effect of completely assimilating the Irish to the English system, which was a very important matter for Ireland. Nothing, however, was done in a further direction; and, now that so many efforts to help these poor people had been frustrated, he would not take upon himself to resist the present insufficient proposals. It appeared that in the course of the 20 years preceding 1878, the pauper lunatics of Ireland had increased from about 1,500 to about 3,000, and since that period, there was, as he understood, a great many more, so that it was obviously necessary to find a remedy for an evil of such magnitude, by which the sufferings of people so afflicted would be mitigated; but, whatever was done, it should always be borne in mind that the object was not to extend or to stereotype a bad system, but to find a better one. They all knew how indifferent both Houses of Parliament were concerning those matters; but, as they were now dealing with this particular subject, and alive as to the necessity for action with regard to it, he would say that if they did a little, and did not do enough, while they would be giving a palliative to the legislative conscience, they would be relegating to the distant future the passing of a proper measure that would have the effect of alleviating the sufferings of the helpless and hopeless poor creatures afflicted with lunacy. He would be a bold man who said that any effort in that direction should be resisted or rejected by the House. At the same time, he was bound to say, at once, that this was a most insufficient measure. He would not, however, as he had said, take upon himself the responsibility of opposing it, as he hoped it would be improved in Committee, inasmuch as he thought it was not by any means bad, as far as it went; and though it was characterized by many defects, it contained several useful provisions. For instance, it was well for the magistrates to be empowered to detain wandering lunatics, and keep them out of harm's way; and it was, no doubt, well that places in which lunatics were appointed to be received should be under medical inspection. This was as it should be; but a further application of the English system was most desirable. The condition of the Irish workhouses had lately attracted much attention, and it was to be hoped that they would be found suitable for the lunatics who, whether paupers or millionaires, ought to be treated in the same liberal manner. The conveniences and arrangements that were necessary were not to be found in Irish workhouses; and the danger was that, if the provisions of the Bill were not adequate, a bad system might be perpetuated, when otherwise it might be destroyed. He would not discuss the proposal to change the control from the Board of Control to the Local Government Board; but he would say that the Inspectors of Lunacy had always done their duty, and he hoped, when the change was made, those services would not be forgetten. The boarding-out of imbecile children and of adult lunatics, who were capable of being so dealt with, was adopted in Scotland, and had been followed for centuries in Belgium; and if it could be resorted to in Ireland it would relieve the gorged asylums and reduce the expenditure for such establishments. It seemed to him to be a proper remedy. If the Bill passed, the Government ought to consider some of the suggestions that had been made.


said, he was sure that every one of their Lordships would be in favour of any measure that would alleviate the sad and miserable condition of the pauper lunatics and idiots of Ireland; but he looked upon the present Bill with some mistrust, for it appeared to him that to carry it properly into effect would render necessary the forming of a properly constituted lunatic ward in every workhouse, and thereby increase the cost to the ratepayers. He was afraid, moreover, it would postpone indefinitely the passing of a better measure. The Bill did not give a magistrate power to commit to any workhouse in which there might be ample space, and which might have the licence of the Local Government Board; but it obliged a magistrate to order a committal to the workhouse of the Union to which the pauper belonged, without giving any power to vary the order. It should also be remembered that the habits of many of these unfortunate persons rendered it impossible that they could be associated with ordinary paupers. If the Bill were properly carried out, it would involve additional heavy charges on the rates, and they ought to be met by some grant from Imperial funds. Unless the Government were prepared to give that assistance, he should be inclined to think it best that the Bill should not be carried at that time. As special Notice had not been given of the measure for that evening, he did not, however, propose to move its rejection; but, when the Bill came to the third reading, he thought its rejection ought to be moved.


said, that he fully concurred with other noble Lords who had spoken, in giving a general approval to the Bill. But while doing so, he thought it would increase the expense to the ratepayers, and, at the same time, it would not give the lunatics any increased accommodation—in fact, if the Bill was passed in its present form, it would remain a dead letter. However, if in Committee some considerable Amendments were moved, it would, perhaps, make the Bill more satisfactory. There could be no doubt that its further consideration would involve, as his noble Friend (the Earl of Limerick) had remarked, an obligation on the part of the Government to consider the suggestion as to making some grant from the Imperial Exchequer.


said, he hoped the Government would not press the Bill, as it did not appear to be acceptable to anybody. He could not oppose it; but he was equally unwilling it should pass in its present shape.


said, that after listening to the speeches against the Bill, and still more to the speech delivered by his noble and learned Friend (Lord O'Hagan) in its favour, he did not think the prospects of the Bill were very bright. However, the Irish Government took the greatest interest in the measure, and had promoted it solely with a desire to relieve a great deal of suffering and misery; and, therefore, he should be sorry if the Bill were not read a second time. In moving the second reading, he made allowance for the two classes of objections, which he anticipated—namely, the objections of those who did not agree to the transferring of the maintenance of the institutions from the county cess, which was paid by the occupiers alone, to the poor rate, which was paid by the owners and occupiers combined; and the fears of the humanitarians, who, apparently, would prefer that those wretched creatures should remain at large in the streets, unless they were treated in the most refined and expensive manner in lunatic asylums of the best kind, and who would rather have nothing done unless their schemes were carried out. He now found that he had not rated those objections sufficiently high; and he saw how powerful their effect was in that House. He could assure their Lordships that all the criticisms that had been made on the Bill should be duly considered, and there should be no hurry in pressing it forward; but he hoped their Lordships would assent to the second reading.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly.


said, that after the melancholy speech of the noble Lord opposite (the Lord President of the Council), he should be glad to know when they might expect the next stage of the Bill to be taken?


On this day fortnight.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday the 17th instant.